Mexico City: Old Meets New - United Hub

Mexico City: Old meets new

By Bob Cooper

Mexico City is a spicy blend of old and new, with excavated Aztec ruins in the shadows of a skyline where half of the tallest buildings have arisen since 2014. The city boasts a lively culture, more museums than most European cities and a world-class restaurant scene. For all these reasons, North America's largest city has landed near the top of world travelers' must-see lists.

Aerial view of Mexico City

Monuments, museums and murals

Mexico City explorations logically begin at sprawling Zocalo Square, where the Mexican flag is ceremonially raised and lowered daily. The square is in the historic city center, a UNESCO World Heritage Site, near North America's largest cathedral and the National Palace. Inside the palace, Diego Rivera's stunning tableau of 400 years of Mexican history occupies 4,800 square feet of wall space, a project that took him six years to complete. It's one of several places in the city where Rivera's art shines. If you're a fan, be sure to check out the nearby Diego Rivera Mural Museum as well as the impressive art of his wife, Frida Kahlo, at the Frida Kahlo Museum (also known as the Blue House).

Aztec attractions

Templo Mayor (Great Temple) was the center of the Aztec world in the ancient capital of Tenochtitlan. Since it was discovered right next to Zocalo Square in 1978, the extensive subterranean ruins and companion museum have become a big attraction. Additional Aztec ruins are seen on bus tours to the ancient city of Teotihuacan, just outside Mexico City. Highlights there include the Pyramid of the Sun—nearly as wide and about half as tall as the Egyptian pyramids—and the Pyramid of the Moon. Yes, you can climb them, and explore the Aztec ruins of seven palaces nearby.

Mayan Temple at Anthropology Museum - Mexico City, Mexico

Bosque de Chapultepec

Like most world cities, Mexico City has an exceptional city park, Bosque de Chapultepec. The most impressive building is Chapultepec Castle, a hilltop fortress erected for a Spanish viceroy who never occupied it. It now serves as the National History Museum. Also in and around the park, twice the size of New York City's Central Park, is a zoo, a botanical garden, a lake with rowboat and paddleboat rentals, an amusement park, two modern art museums, the Water Garden Museum (showcasing several Diego Rivera murals) and the National Museum of Anthropology—arguably Mexico's best museum, worthy of a half-day visit.

Cuisine and Cervezas

Mexico City has emerged as a major culinary destination, led by restaurants such as Pujol and Quintonil, ranked 20th and 22nd in the world. (The only other city with two restaurants ranked that high: Paris.) Both are located in the upscale Polanco district. The trendy Condesa district and artsy Roma district are also home to many outstanding restaurants serving Mexican and fusion fare, as well as great shopping and nightspots. Or you can just relax at an informal cantina on any commercial street to enjoy quesadillas and cervezas with a televised soccer game or Mexican music as entertainment.

Busy downtown Historic Center street in Mexico City

On the boulevard

Paseo de la Reforma is a grand boulevard that slices diagonally through Mexico City, from the old city center to Bosque de Chapultepec. Broad and handsome, it's lined by tall statues and monuments, taller trees and even taller modern high-rises. Clogged with traffic the rest of the week, it changes character on Sundays, when most of it is closed to vehicles until 2 p.m. That's when tens of thousands of walkers, runners, skaters and cyclists take it over—a treat for locals and tourists alike.

Practicalities

Mexico City is safer than many U.S. cities, so don't let movies about cartels that operate elsewhere in Mexico keep you away. The subway system is also quite safe—and the fastest and least expensive way to get around the city. Buses and Uber are also good transportation options. Just don't rent a car, as the traffic is insane. Good hotels are about $50/night; excellent hotels are about $100. Once you've checked in, allow ample time to take in the sights as the 7,400-foot altitude encourages a relaxed pace.

The Royal Chapel at the Gardens of National Palace in Mexico City, Mexico

If you go

United Airlines offers flights to Mexico City from several U.S. cities and MileagePlus® Rewards can help pay for your hotel room once you arrive. Go to united.com or use the United app to plan your Mexico City escape.

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